- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 14, 2004

A small group of demonstrators gathered yesterday near the Embassy of Pakistan in Northwest to voice their opposition to the policies of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.

About 20 protesters at the “Vigil for Democracy and Justice in Pakistan” huddled on the corner of International Drive and Van Ness Street carrying placards reading, “Musharraf, Give Up Your Weapons of Mass Destruction,” “Down with Musharraf. Down with the Pakistani Army,” and “Down with Corrupt Pakistani Generals.”

The hour-long vigil was sponsored by the World Sindhi Institute (WSI), an organization based in Northwest that is committed to its struggle for human rights for Sindhis in southeastern Pakistan through nonviolent advocacy and activism.

“We cannot continue to ignore current conditions in Pakistan. The Pakistani people are being discriminated against and tortured under the current banner of democracy, and world leaders are turning a blind eye,” said Munawar Laghari, WSI executive director.

“With the world distracted by events in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pakistani government has had free rein to commit numerous human rights violations. There was a sharp increase in sectarian violence in the second half of the year, particularly in the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan,” he said.

The threat of rain did not stop John Salzberg, 67, from coming out to support the organization’s efforts to publicize the reputed atrocities taking place in the Pakistani provinces of Sindh and Balochistan.

“I feel that the U.S. policy in supporting dictatorial governments like the one in Pakistan is promoting terrorism,” Mr. Salzberg said.

“Many in the Muslim world see the United States in this light, whether [it’s] Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or Kuwait. You can see inconsistencies in U.S. policies, and one of the worst purveyors of mass destruction is Pakistan. Pakistan gave weapons to Libya, [North] Korea and Iran,” he said referring to Abdul Qadeer Khan, the founder of Pakistan’s nuclear program who was pardoned by Gen. Musharraf for selling weapons secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

Lisa Washington, 29, joined in the chorus of protesters who chanted at the top of their lungs: “Pakistani Military Go Home” and “Democracy In — Dictatorship Out,” during the vigil. Ms. Washington said she believes in the issues WSI is bringing to the forefront.

“General Musharraf is allowing dams to be built on the Thal Canal — a major canal — that carries water to provinces in Pakistan. It would be like cutting off parts of the Mississippi River,” said Ms. Washington, who lives in Northeast.

“The people of Sindh don’t [have access] to water so they can’t grow their crops. It’s an easy way to commit genocide,” she said.

Khalid Hashmani, a member of the Sindh Association of North America, moved through the crowd stopping to talk with protesters and energized the group by shouting slogans through a bullhorn.

“This is a day that is supposed to be a celebration of human rights, equal rights and achievement in Pakistan,” said Mr. Hashmani, referring to the date 57 years ago when Pakistan formally came into existence.

“Unfortunately, today in Pakistan, cruel and discriminatory policies adopted by the present dictatorial government [are in place] against the people of Sindh and Balochistan,” Mr. Hashmani said.

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